On Fantasy Literature

Fantasy literature and its origins has been my favorite subject of study for as long as I can remember. Favorite authors on the subject include Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and J.R.R. Tolkien ("On Fairy-stories"). In college I turned this interest into an honors thesis, fleshed that out with a few more essays in graduate school, and later revised the whole thing into a single essay published by Irreantum, the refereed literary journal of the Assocation for Mormon Letters. Unfortunately, it's no longer possible to obtain back copies of that issue, so I decided to provide the essay's three main paradigms below. [Update: They have no made it available at the link above.]

The first table deals with characters crossing between realities, or in other words, undergoing a supernatural transformation of reality. The second table defines three separate modes of transformation and gives examples from the Old and New Testaments (not works of fantasy in my eyes, but obvious precursors to others). The third table turns those biblical examples into archetypes and lists corresponding characters from classical and popular fantasy literature.

Table 1: Four Archetypes of Free Will

Permanent
Temporary
Positive Reaction
Disciple
Investigator
Negative Reaction
Victim of Circumstance
Complainer

Table 2: Character Transformations

Permanent
(Disciples and Victims)
Temporary
(Investigators and Complainers)
Change of Setting
Transfer
Transition
Adam and Eve
Lucifer 
Moses
Jonah
Change of Body
             Metamorphosis
Phase
Moses
Cain
Job
 Legion of Devils
Change of Mind
Conversion
Spell
Adam and Eve
Cain
 Peter
 Man Possessed

Table 3: Character Transformations (Popular Fantasy Literature)

Permanent
(Disciples and Victims)
Temporary
(Investigators and Complainers)
Change of Setting
Transfer
Transition
Adam and Eve
St. George (The Faerie Queene)
Jack (& the Beanstalk)
Superman
Lucifer
Achilles (The Odyssey)
Peter Pan

Moses
Odysseus
The Pevensie Children (Narnia)
Harry Potter
Jonah
Lucian (True History)
Prospero (The Tempest)
Dorothy (Oz)
Change of Body
Metamorphosis
Phase
Moses
Callisto & Arcas (Metamorphoses)
Pinocchio
Spider-Man
Edward & Bella (Twilight)
Cain
Lycaon (Metamorphoses)
Sauron, Gollum (LotR)
Voldemort (Harry Potter)
Job
The Beast (Beauty and…)
Wart/Arthur (Sword in the Stone)
Jacob (Twilight)
Legion of Devils
Io (Metamorphoses)
Pinocchio
Remus (Harry Potter)
Change of Mind
Conversion
Spell
Adam and Eve
Miranda and Ferdinand (The Tempest)
Ofelia (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Cain
Narrator (Tell-Tale Heart)
Gollum, Saruman (LotR)
Peter
Dante (Divine Comedy)
Alice (in Wonderland) Max (Where the Wild Things Are)*
Man Possessed
Dido (Aeneid)
Don Quixote
Frodo (LotR)
Calvin (& Hobbes)[1]




[1] For my comparison between Max and Calvin using this paradigm, see “Stepping into a wild world: Remembering Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’”

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